Hello from cold and blustery Kingston, Ontario. I’m accepting bookings from schools for author talks in March, April, May, and June. Interested teachers can email me directly to set a date. The Writers’ Union of Canada has funding available to offset costs and make these visits very affordable. Investigate further at Ontario Writers-in-the-Schools Program Overview and on my member page. Please note this important statement on The Writers’ Union of Canada’s website: “We are now accepting applications for the 2015-16 funding year for visits taking place between April 1, 2015 – August 31, 2015. Applications will be processed in late February.” Funding is allocated on a first-come first-served basis, so don’t delay. You can find out more about my presentations on my website under Book Talks. A detailed description of book talk topics follows:
My presentations draw upon my three books in The Women’s Hall of Fame series, Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, Dazzling Women Designers, and Amazing Women Athletes, plus my activity book Backyard Circus. All presentations encourage active student participation. Each session includes a short Q&A segment. With advanced notice, I can alter specific presentations to suit a broader range of grades.
Kindergarten to Grade 3: Backyard Circus [30 – 45 min]
Imagine the fun of creating your very own backyard circus! Let’s bring on the silly hats and the big shoes and try out some circus stunts to captivate the classroom crowd. I read aloud and act out sections from Backyard Circus, encouraging children to take part. Classroom performers walk the “tightrope,” juggle, dress up, and tell jokes. I stress that practice makes perfect when it comes to polishing skills at the circus — and as a writer. A real crowd-pleaser!
Grades 4 – 6: Dig, Dig, Dig! [50 min]
Using my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, I take students behind the scenes to explore one of the first stages in the writing process: research. Together they compare secondary sources to primary sources and learn the value of conducting interviews to collect factual information about real people. Through a series of interactive exercises, students devise questions and practise interviewing. Looking at advice and tips gathered from successful entrepreneurs, I show how students can use a similar approach in their own goal setting. Persistence and determination pay off.
Grades 7 – 8: Get Real [50 – 60 min]
Can nonfiction writers borrow techniques from fiction to draw readers into a story with panache? You, bet! I demonstrate how to fill in the gaps that can arise in nonfiction narratives, despite meticulous research. The goal is a believable, true-to-life portrait of an individual that may just walk off the page. Then, by drawing examples from my Women’s Hall of Fame books, I encourage students to combine sleuth-like observational skills with memories from personal experiences to create catchy openers. This presentation also explores the importance of honesty and integrity in writing about real people’s lives.
High School: Girl Power [50 – 60 min]
Images from the media, messages from peers, parents, and others may make you feel like you have to act in certain ways. This presentation, which is geared for female students, shatters stereotypes and encourages young women to explore their interests, find their passion, and go for it. With an open, inclusive outlook, girls can aspire to holding top executive positions, breaking records in sports, and pursuing diverse fields in math, science, and design. Citing real-life examples from my Women’s Hall of Fame books, I share inspiring quotes and advice from successful women.
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Coming up this spring, I’m thrilled to have been asked to be one of three local judges evaluating entries for Teenswrite! hosted by the Kingston WritersFest. Entries will arrive in April and I’ll have to submit my choices by mid-May. What a wonderful opportunity to provide support for a local arts and culture initiative. I am looking forward to reading the entries and seeing the creativity of Kingston youths.Read More »
Leanne Lieberman; $12.95 paper, 978-1-4598-0109-7, 227 pp., Orca Publishers, 2013 (ages 13+)
Kingston-based YA author, Leanne Lieberman offers an edgy, issue-oriented story, set in present-day Vancouver. Sixteen-year-old Lauren, whose father is a Holocaust historian, struggles with the usual teenage angst over boys, cliques, parental expectations, religion, little brothers, and frizzy hair. Basketball is a way to play one-on-one with her crush Jesse Summers, a popular boy at school, who has—as Lauren’s friend Brooke puts it— “radiant facial structure.” But just as romance begins to blossom, racism stops Lauren cold when she sees Jesse wearing a Nazi armband. Lauren knows its a game, but she feels sick to her stomach by what she’s seen. Should she tell an adult? Is it right to rat on her crush? Why is this game so wrong?
Lieberman captures the emotionally charged world of teens in this story that—like many teen dramas—features cliques. Text messages and shortforms (e.g., WTF, OMG) are integrated into the narrative. The demands of school, homework, and family obligations all dominate in Lauren’s life. While she works through tough issues and is a good student, Lauren’s not always a model of good behaviour. For instance, by page 7, she’s uttered the f-word. Later, she and her friends share some Vodka, stolen from her parents’ liquor cabinet. Some of her friends smoke at parties to look cool. Social dynamics and relationships with friends are central to Lauren’s life, but there’s a lot going on; she’s working through some profound questions.
True to the genre, the events that unravel result in personal growth and revelation. By the story’s end, Lauren has matured. She makes peace with Jesse and with her Jewish roots. The elements of Judaism will be familiar to some readers and will introduce others to new terms, including rabbi, synagogue, Rosh Hashana, Yiddish, the Book of Life, the Torah, Hebrew school, bar mitzvah, and anti-Semitism. This is an energetic and thought-provoking novel that will garner deep respect and compassion among readers for the Jews who endured terrible wrongs in the past. Most importantly, the book shows why this reverence holds fast today.
~ Jill BryantRead More »
Recently I attended the Ontario Library Association’s “Superconference 2014” at the Metro Convention Centre in Toronto. I had a 10:00 a.m. book-signing gig at the Second Story Press booth. When I first walked into the lounge for authors and presenters, I saw fellow Second Story Press author/illustrator Janet Wilson and had a quick chat with her. Then I found the booth and met some very welcoming Second Story employees. There was a great turn-out for the signing. Hey, what teachers won’t line up for a free, signed copy of a book for their school library?! I enjoyed chatting with teachers and teacher-librarians. One funny moment was signing a book for a teacher from QECVI, one of the three fantastic downtown public high schools in Kingston, where I live. After about 20 minutes, the stack of give-away books were gone. I enjoyed checking out the books Second Story Press had on display. Wow! There were so many books that I wanted to read. Every Day Is Malala Day is the first book in a new series through Plan Canada. This looks like a great partnership for SSP.
Later, walking through the aisles, and popping in and out of booths by various publishers and organizations, I bumped into author/illustrator Patricia Storms who I worked with at KNOW magazine, but had never met. I also had a chance to meet author Marsha Skrypuch and caught a glimpse of author Lizann Flatt while she was busy signing books. I don’t often travel into Toronto, but events like this are a lot of fun to attend, largely because of the enthusiastic, book-loving attendees and the who’s who of author, illustrators, and publishers moseying about. I bought a book called In Those Days: Collected Writings on Arctic History by Kenn Harper and picked up a catalogue for “Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company that aims to promote and preserve the stories, knowledge, and talent of northern Canada.” After interviewing Nicole Robertson for Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs, and then the heightened media attention around Aboriginal issues during last year’s Idle No More campaign, I’ve become increasingly interested in indigenous issues and stories.
About a week ago, I made the happy discovery that my book Phenomenal Female Entrepreneurs is on the Resource Links Year’s Best 2013 List. A reviewer who published a December critique says, “I was impressed with the conversational tone that still conveyed a lot of information.” She added that the “writing style makes the text easy to read and understand.”
That’s all for today, folks! It’s back to preparing for TD Canadian Children’s Book Week. I’m getting very excited about travelling to Alberta!
Ciao!Read More »
I’ve had a very thrilling last few weeks. My application to tour during Canadian Children’s Book Week in May 2014 was accepted! This is truly a high point of my entire career. It is a great honour to be included and I am so excited about travelling out of province to give talks to kids at schools and libraries. You can view the complete list of touring authors here. And, last Friday, I found out where I’ll be going for Book Week — Alberta! I haven’t been to Alberta for over 20 years. I hope I’ll have a great view of the Rocky Mountains. If I’m anywhere near Calgary, it would be great if I could connect with Nicole Robertson, one of the featured entrepreneurs in my book.
I recently attended the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Awards Celebration in Toronto. It was my first time at that event, but I don’t think it will be my last. Wow. It was so much fun to meet so many super stars in the Canadian publishing scene. Speaking of which, all you aspiring authors and illustrators should check out The Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Resources for Authors and Illustrators.
I just finished reading Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. I’ve finished a draft of my one-act play and am attempting to rewrite it as a novel. This is proving to be very challenging, but I think it’s a good exercise.
I’ll post more news about TD Canadian Children’s Book Week as I learn more.
Bye for now!Read More »
My last blog posting provided a CBC link to a program about the future of book publishing. Following from the panelists’ discussion, I’m sharing a piece I wrote a while ago:
The Scholastic Book Fair is at my children’s school. I shudder. Don’t get me wrong. I love books. I write children’s books. I’m all for promoting literacy and getting kids enthused about reading. In addition, as an editor, I adore Scholastic. They are my best client. Their deadlines are reasonable; they pay me in less than three weeks. So, what’s the problem?
My kids—who never watch TV and have been raised on a steady diet of quality children’s books, with an emphasis on the Canadian ones—invariably choose the schlockiest, most commercial, American-made title that makes my skin crawl. The paper is thin, the word count is low, and the covers filled with computer-generated artwork. My youngest daughter squeals with delight. She needs to have this one. She looooves it! I feel ill.
In a weak moment, I’ve indulged my kids in one or two of these mass-produced, overly commercialized pamphlets. They proudly carry them home, flashing the cover to curious classmates and toting one of Scholastic’s inspirational animal posters to plaster on their bedroom walls. At home, they devour the $6.99 books in less than 10 minutes. The books hang out on my coffee table for a couple weeks (where they appear to be mocking me), before I shelve them and they’ll languish, forgotten.
Similarly, in the book club catalogue, only a handful of the books feature Canadian authors and illustrators—and, when they do, they are mostly biggies like Robert Munsch and Paulette Bourgeois. Nestled among the Wii sets and the Official Pokémon Guide, I see a book by Hugh Brewster, another by Jean Little, and one by Marsha Skrypuch. Now we’re getting somewhere!
I’ve learned, when leafing through the catalogue, to gravitate to the nonfiction books and the Canadian-based series. “This one’s about wolves,” I say. “How about this book about Canada’s rocks and minerals?” My suggestions sound feeble and are ignored. Up against the excitement of peers who’ve discovered Rainbow Magic cut-out dolls and a Justin Bieber quiz book, my quiet coaching is stone-walled.
Flipping the catalogue over, so my daughter can fill in her selection, I spot the FSC and Ancient Forest Friendly logos. Well, that’s some concession, I sigh, thinking about the volume of these catalogues printed, shipped, and distributed to schools across Canada—I mean, North America, and beyond.
My kids and I visit the library most weeks, trucking home backpacks full of children’s books: large-format picture books, rich with guache prints; stacks of nonfiction covering the latest science-class topic; thick fantasy novels that my oldest daughter devours in three or four days, reading up to three hours some days. Books arrive at Christmas, Easter, birthdays, and for no occasion at all. My kids are lucky. We have a literary home environment. But we may be in the minority. For a lot of children, the school-based book clubs may be their only access to books in their home. In fact, when my husband was a child, his home library was made up of book club books exclusively.
Looking at today’s schools, however, we are faced with a conundrum. The money families spend at the Book Fair earns teachers free books for their classrooms. The more money parents spend, the more free (Scholastic-published) books the school stands to get. In cash-strapped Canadian classrooms, it’s a pretty sweet deal.
Parent councils work tirelessly to generate extra money for schools. Students sell magazine subscriptions to earn money for school fundraising projects. But fundraising money rarely goes to expanding and improving school library collections. The trend these days is to purchase technological tools for the classroom. Across the country many teachers’ wish lists include Smart Boards, data projectors, ERIC information systems, flat screen TVs, and wall mounts for these sleek screens. This is the modern classroom. How long it will be until these technologies, which amount to thousands of dollars in expenditures, are obsolete and taking up space in landfills? Don’t go there.
All right, so we don’t want schools to remain in the dark ages. Teachers want up-to-date tools. But what about quality Canadian books in classrooms and school libraries?
Most of the books I see in Canadian schools are American and British and many are old favourites from my generation. There’s Little House on the Prairie, Charlotte’s Web, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Has anyone read anything new since the seventies?
During my trip to Labrador a couple years ago, for the Labrador Creative Arts Festival, I was surprised — indeed, shocked — to learn that Happy Valley-Goose Bay does not have a bookstore. Not one! So apart from ordering books from online sources, good ol’ Scholastic is the number-one choice. Still it’s a tad off-putting when teachers ask, “Can I order your book through Scholastic?” Sigh. To date, through chance and circumstance, I haven’t published any trade books with Scholastic, though a French translation of Making Shadow Puppets appeared in the catalogue several years ago. The authors whose books appear in the Book Fair catalogues get wonderful exposure. But what does the author earn when the book sells for $2.99? Let’s swallow that sugar-coated pill in the name of Literacy and put up with it. After all, any books that get kids reading have merit. Book series are effective at hooking young readers and building literacy skills. I applaud them for that.
In a tumultuous publishing climate, where creators, illustrators, and publishers all struggle to eke out a living and stay afloat, it feels wrong to point fingers. We’re all in this together, folks! I like to believe, like everyone, that selling a certain amount of schlock helps publishers afford to get out the gems and promote quality children’s books. But finding a way to get more quality Canadian books into our schools, and exposing more kids to great books by Canadian authors, is essential for our publishing culture to survive.
There must be a way to work together on this.
(Canadian!) Historical Books for Children
To order Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson, click here.
Here is a Teacher’s Guide for Charlie Wilcox by Sharon McKay.
To find out more about the Our Canadian Girl series by Penguin, click here.
To learn more about the Dear Canada series by Scholastic, click here.
To order The Pioneer Alphabet by Mary Alice Downie, click here.